From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
The Bureau of Reclamation has estimated a banner year for Fryingpan-Arkansas flows — with a disclaimer.
“The forecast is based on average conditions for the rest of the spring,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s manager for the Fry-Ark Project. “We’ve seen it continue to snow and rain, and we’ve seen everything stop in March.”
Vaughan spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
Based on snowpack of 140 percent of median in the Fry-Ark collection area on the other side of the Continental Divide on Feb. 1, Reclamation predicts 63,800 acre-feet of water could be imported this year. If it holds, that would be about 20 percent higher than normal. But that number could be influenced by when and how quickly the snow melts in May and June. It also depends on whether snows continue during March and April, when the mountains typically get the largest accumulation of snow.
While the Arkansas River basin is reporting storage levels of 64 percent of average, Fry-Ark reservoirs are 85-105 percent of average for this time of year, Vaughan said. Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, is at 105 percent, while Twin Lakes and Pueblo are about 85 percent of average.
Reclamation wants to move about 30,000 acre-feet of water out of Turquoise Lake, but can’t because it is making repairs on the turbines at the Mount Elbert hydroelectric plant. Most of the water moved between Turquoise and Twin Lakes goes through a large tunnel that feeds the Mount Elbert forebay. Repairs should be completed in early March, Vaughan said.
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will allocate water from the Fry-Ark Project in May. About 53 percent goes to cities and 47 percent to farms under the district’s allocation principles.
From the USDA:
Limited water supplies are predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Right now, snow measuring stations in California, Nevada and Oregon that currently don’t have any snow, and a full recovery isn’t likely, the center’s staff said.
USDA is partnering with states, including those in the West, to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture.
USDA announced last week that $15 million was available for conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers in affected areas in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. As part of the announcement, $5 million was also made available to California communities through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Earlier this month, USDA made another $20 million available to farmers and ranchers in California. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack joined President Obama in California on February 14th to announce those and other drought relief measures.
Parts of eastern California are now in a state of emergency because of drought. This area is suffering one of the lowest snow years on record. Meanwhile, in Oregon, mountain snowpack is far below normal.
“The chances of making up this deficit are so small that at this point we’re just hoping for a mediocre snowpack,” said NRCS Hydrologist Melissa Webb for Oregon. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to return to normal. There’s a strong chance we’ll have water supply shortages across most of Oregon this summer.”
Most Oregonians don’t have access to water from other states and depend on local sources for water supply.
Across the Continental Divide, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado are mostly near normal. The one exception is New Mexico, which is extremely dry.
Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.
NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts since 1935 and operates SNOTEL, a high-elevation automated system that collects snowpack and related climatic data in the western United States and Alaska. These data help farmers, ranchers, water managers, hydroelectric companies, communities and recreational users make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.